Building a New Regional Migration System: Redefining U.S. Cooperation with Mexico and Central America
Migration between the United States and neighboring countries to the south is an enduring if ever-shifting phenomenon. While the COVID-19 pandemic and measures put in place to stop the spread of the virus have severely limited mobility, longer-standing questions about how best to manage regional migration remain as important as ever. These include how to address the mixed movement of unauthorized economic migrants and those fleeing persecution, with many families and unaccompanied children among them, and how to facilitate the legal movement of workers to meet labor demand and make the most of the region’s human capital.
The Trump administration has largely focused on enhancing border controls and sharply narrowing access to asylum at the border, with the aim of deterring migration and turning back those who arrive without authorization to enter. Yet this heavily enforcement-focused strategy is unlikely to be sustainable in the long run.
This report puts forward another approach, one that reflect the many faces of migration through the region and that is rooted in closer cooperation with Mexico and Central American countries. Its key element are:
- expanding opportunities for legal movement by extending seasonal work visas to nationals of countries in Central America that have the greatest migration pressures;
- re-establishing asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, but streamlining processes to ensure fair and timely decisions;
- professionalizing border enforcement in Mexico and the United States to make it both more effective and more humane; and
- investing in economic and institutional development in Central America to address the forces driving people to leave their homes.
While a transition from one approach to another cannot happen overnight—and indeed careful sequencing of policy changes will be essential to avoid triggering a surge in migration throughout the region—it is essential if the United States and its partners are to move the needle towards safer, more orderly, and legal migration.
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1 Rethinking Regional Strategies to Address Migration
2 The Emergence of a Regional Migration System
3 Creating Temporary Labor Migration Pathways
4 Rebuilding Humanitarian Protection Systems
A. Expanding In-Country Protection Systems
B. Supporting Mexico’s Asylum System and Resettlement Initiatives
C. Strengthening Refugee Resettlement to the United States
5 Ensuring Transparent and Rule-Based Border Enforcement
6 Investing in Economic and Institutional Development
7 Towards a New Regional Migration System